Madonna of the Rosary
Zevio, Verona, 1510

Based in part on the 1920 Catholic Encyclopedia

see also Bl. John Paul II Apostolic Letter: ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE:


§ 1. The OUR FATHER as a Substitute for Psalms



   Private Recitation of Groups of Fifty Psalms

AT an early date among the monastic orders the practice had established itself not only of offering Masses, but of saying vocal prayers as a suffrage for their deceased brethren. For this purpose the private recitation of the 150 psalms divided into three groups of fifty psalms each -  the Three Fifties of the Irish penitentials - became widespread. Already in A. D. 800 we learn from the compact between St. Gall and Reichenau (“Mon. Germ. Hist.: Confrat.”, Piper, 140) that for each deceased brother all the priests should say one Mass and also fifty psalms. A charter in Kemble (Cod. Dipl., I, 290) prescribes that each monk is to sing two fifties (twa fiftig) for the souls of certain benefactors, while each priest is to sing two Masses and each deacon to read two Passions. 

OVER time the monastic conversi, or lay brothers, who were often uneducated and thus unable to participate fully in the Latin Divine Office, became distinct from the choir monks.  It was felt appropriate that they be allowed to offer suffrages for their deceased brothers using a simpler form of prayer for the Latin psalter.  The practice thus arose of substituting the Lord's Prayer ( the Paternoster) for a psalm.  Over time the practice of reciting multiple Paternosters as a substitte for the Liturgy of the Hours became widespread and popular among the laity.

THE Rule of the Knights Templar (ch. 10, c. 1129) ) permits commutation of the Divine Office to Pater Nosters as follows: Thirteen for Matins (Vigils) Nine for Vespers, and Seven fo the other hours

THE Franciscan Rule (Regula Bullata) of 1223 assigns the following substitutions:



CHAPTER 3.  Concerning the divine office and fasting; and how the brothers should move through the world. De divino officio et ieiunio et quomodo fratres debeant ire per mundum. 



The clerical brothers shall perform the divine service according to the order of the holy Roman Church; excepting the psalter, of which they may have breviaries. But the lay brothers shall say twenty four Paternosters at matins, five at the Lauds, seven each at Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, twelve at Vespers, seven at the Compline; and they shall pray for the dead.

Clerici faciant divinum officium secundum ordinem sanctae Romanae ecclesiae excepto psalterio ex quo habere poterunt breviaria.  Laici vero dicant viginti quatuor Pater noster pro matutino pro laude quinque pro prima tertia sexta nona pro qualibet istarum septem pro vesperis autem duodecim pro completorio septem et orent pro defunctis.


A medievel paternosterer practices his trade
Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317.2°, F. 13r

At the Last Judgement, the saved pray with paternosters

STRINGS of beads came to be used to keep track of the number of times the Lord's Prayer had been repeated.  By the thirteenth century the manufacturers of these strings of beads used in prayer became known as paternosterers; and throughout Europe they formed a recognized craft guild of considerable importance. The “Livre des métiers” of Stephen Boyleau, for example, supplies full information regarding the four guilds of patenôtriers in Paris in the year 1268, while Paternoster Row in London still preserves the memory of the street in which their English craft-fellows congregated. Thus it is clear that an appliance which was persistently called a “Paternoster”, or in Latin fila de paternoster, numeralia de paternoster, and so on, had, originally, been designed for counting Our Fathers.


§ 2. Repetitions of the AVE MARIA



 Substitution of the Hail Mary for the Lord's Prayer (ca. 1120)

DURING the course of the twelfth century (and before the birth of St. Dominic), the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar. It its earliest form the Ave Maria probably consisted only of the salutation: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  By the middle of the twelfth century Elizabeth's greeting was frequently added to the angelic salutation.  Thus St. Albert (d. 1140) is described by his contemporary biographer:

 “A hundred times a day he bent his knees, and fifty times he prostrated himself raising his body again by his fingers and toes, while he repeated at every genuflexion: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

It was not until the sixteenth century that it became common to conclude the Ave Maria with the prayer, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

SIMILARLY, the Ancren Riwle. (written before than 1200) [...] gives directions how fifty Aves are to be said divided into sets of ten, with prostrations and other marks of reverence.

THUS it should be noted that the invention of the beads as a counting device and the practice of repeating one hundred and fifty Aves cannot be attibuted to St. Dominic, since both practices existed before his birth.

 Meditation on Particular Mysteries (ca. 1475)

THE tradition of meditating on particular mysteries probably dates from the preaching of the Dominican Alan de Rupe around 1470-75. He claimed to have inherited from ancient authorities the practice of meditating on particular mysteries; however, his claims seem to have no basis in fact. His preaching, however, as well as the Rosary Confraternities organized by him and his colleagues at Douai, Cologne, and elsewhere were very successful; and led to the widespread availablity of texts that popularized Alan’s teaching.  It was his writings that gave rise to the inaccurate legend that the rosary had been popularized (and created) by St. Dominic.





A VARIETY of different forms of the rosary have been used within the Roman Catholic Church, reflecting the different epochs during which the practice evolved.  The most common in use today entails sequential meditation on five related mysteries while recitating ten Ave Marias followed by a Gloria Patri at each mystery.  The mysteries are grouped into four sets of five, each set assigned to a particular day of the week.

JOYFUL: The Annunciation; The Visitation; the Birth of Christ; the Presentation; the Finding of Christ in the Temple.

LUMINOUS: (introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002) The Baptism of Jesus; The Wedding at Cana; The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God; The Transfiguration; The Institution of the Eucharist.

SORROWFUL: The Crucifixion; the Agony in the Garden; The Scourging; The Crowning with Thorns; The Carrying of the Cross; The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

GLORIOUS: The Resurrection; the Ascension; Pentecost; the Assumption of Mary; the Coronation of Mary in Heaven.




IN its earliest form the rosary had much in common with the Jesus Prayer.  It was clearly a brief form of monologistic prayer (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You) no longer than the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me); and the practices attributed above to St. Albert are very similar to those of the early hesychasts.  However, the growing emphasis on using the rosary as a means of meditating on mysteries of the faith differs sharply from the non-discursive, anti-iconic approach emphasized by the hesychasts. 










(Seraphic Rosary)


A Rosary consisting of seven decades in commemoration of the seven joys of the Blessed Virgin (the Annunciation, Visitation, Birth of our Lord, Adoration of the Magi, Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and her Coronation in heaven), in use among the members of the three orders of St. Francis.

The manner of reciting the Franciscan Rosary is as follows: The Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, and three Hail Marys having been said as usual, the mystery to be meditated upon is introduced after the word Jesus of the first Hail Mary of each decade, thus: "Jesus, whom thou didst joyfully conceive", "Jesus, whom thou didst joyfully carry to Elizabeth", and so on for the remaining five decades, which are given in most manuals of Franciscan devotion. At the end of the seventh decade two Hail Marys are added to complete the number of years (72) that the Blessed Virgin is said to have lived on earth.


  THE SERVITE (seven-decade) ROSARY


the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary is especially connected to the Servite Order (also called Servants of Mary) and so this unique chaplet is commonly referred to as the Servite Rosary. Rather than decades, it consists of seven sets of seven beads; the sets of seven beads are called ‘weeks.’ Where the Franciscan Crown is focused on the seven joys of Mary, the Servite chaplet is focused specifically on the seven sorrows, or dolors, of Mary. These are the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, Mary meeting Jesus on the road to Calvary, the Crucifixion, Jesus being taken down from the cross, and the laying of Jesus’s body in the tomb. The intent behind the Servite rosary is a devotion to Mary and the real pain she suffered in watching and sharing in Jesus’s pain, as we are called to share in Jesus’s suffering as well.









The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a relatively recent but very popular devotion popularized by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, who reported that on Good Friday 1937, Christ appeared to her and asked her to recite the “chaplet” for nine days, starting on Good Friday and ending on the Octave of Easter (the Sunday after Easter Sunday).

The chaplet is most often recited during those nine days, but it can be prayed at any time of the year, and Saint Maria Faustina recited it almost unceasingly. A standard rosary may be used to recite the chaplet .


1. Begin with the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles Creed.

2. Then on the Our Father beads pray the following:
“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”

3. On the 10 Hail Mary beads pray the following:
“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

(Repeat step 2 and 3 for all five decades).







The Sign of the Cross

Opening Prayers

“You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.”

“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!” (three times)

The Our Father, Hail Mary, and Apostle’s Creed

Then on each of the five decades of the Rosary:

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. Amen.”

Followed by ten repetitions of

“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

The concluding doxology, prayed three times:

“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

The final prayer:

“Eternal God, in Whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not despair, nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy Itself. Amen.”

This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 1990....x....   “”.